The Makah people have inhabited Neah Bay for more than 3,810 years, according to archaeological research. While Neah Bay is the only centralized village on the contemporary reservation, there were five Makah villages prior to contact with non-Indians in 1790. One of these other villages was Ozette, the southernmost Makah village. Makahs abandoned Ozette in 1917 to send their children to school as ordered by the government. Many contemporary Makahs trace their ancestry to the Ozette village.
In the winter of 1969-1970 a storm caused the bank at the Ozette village location to slump, exposing hundreds of perfectly preserved wooden artifacts. A hiker contacted the Makah Tribe, then the Tribe phoned Washington State University, and in April 1970, some two months after the storm, excavation of the Ozette Site began. Makah oral history told of a "great slide" which buried a portion of Ozette long ago; archaeologists collaborating with the Tribe proved this oral history correct. Radiocarbon dates demonstrated that a slide some 500 + 50 years BP (before present) buried six longhouses and their respective contents, locking the pre-contact wooden and wood-based artifacts in a shroud of mud. The 11-year excavation produced over 55,000 artifacts, which the Tribe kept on the reservation. Consequently, the MCRC came about from the Tribe's desire to curate and interpret this unique collection.